Adela Perez sat in her daughter’s fiance’s SUV along the desolate Gary road, nervously checking her phone and waiting for her oldest daughter to come back with any kind of news.

The mother of Jessica Flores said she gets maybe two hours of sleep a night if she’s lucky. Between grieving for her youngest son, Angel Pagan Jr., who was killed in November; losing several young relatives in an August fire that killed 10 children in Chicago; and undergoing cancer treatment through the end of last year, Perez, of Joliet,Ill., was desperately hoping for a better 2019, she said.

Perez was with a group of 24 people who searched the marshes Saturday along Clark Road and 29th Avenue for any clue of the whereabouts of her youngest daughter, Jessica Flores, 36.

Drew Carter III, 41, of Gary, was charged last month with murder, kidnapping and two counts of criminal confinement, in Flores’ disappearance. He appeared in Lake Superior Court for a formal appearance, and a judge entered pleas of not guilty for Carter. He is scheduled to appear in court again May 6.

The Gary Police Department, at the request of the family, helped them organize a search. Flores has been missing since Feb. 24.

Perez’s continued recovery leaves her physically weak most days, so she couldn’t join her oldest daughter, Mady Perez, and the other volunteers out in the marsh. But her faith remains strong that her youngest daughter – the one who relied on her the most – will be found, one way or another.

“My body’s so heavy,” Perez said. “I want to be out here supporting (Mady). She’s the whole strength of our family right now.”

Adela Perez knows there’s a chance Flores’ body will be found, though she remains unconvinced that Flores died the night she disappeared.

“I don’t feel what I felt when my son died. When he died, I felt his soul rushing through me all at once, like he was saying ‘Goodbye.’ (Flores) hasn’t come through me, so I feel like she’s out there and she needs our help,” she said.

The family is so convinced she’s alive, they haven’t told Flores’ six children that their mom’s missing.

“Her oldest daughter is 11 – her mini — and (Flores) left the night of her birthday,” she said “I told her she went on a trip and that when she comes back, she’ll make it up to her. Her daughter said, ‘She better,’ and that was that. But we can’t bear to tell them anything until we know for sure.”

“We just want her back, whatever happened.”

Mady Perez said the family had received anonymous phone calls telling them where they should search in Gary’s Black Oak section for Flores. They’ve also enlisted the help of a medium who directed them to the area in which they searched Saturday.

“I pray we find my sister,” Mady Perez said.

Deb Schoon, of Crown Point, dressed in hunting gear for the search. Other than several deer-hunting stands and an animal carcass, the group didn’t find anything Saturday. Nevertheless, Schoon was glad she joined them.

“As a mom of six kids myself, (Flores’ disappearance) really hit home. It would really be nice if we can find her and bring her home,” Schoon said. “My heart just goes out to the family.”

Michelle L. Quinn is a freelance reporter for the Post-Tribune.

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